How are we supporting young digital makers?
"82 per cent of young people say they are interested in digital making. However, half of young people make things with digital technology less than once a week or never."
I’ve spent the last couple of months exploring the rich field of digital making across the UK, which has come together into the ‘Young digital makers’ report, published today.
The picture I have seen is huge support, enthusiasm and interest for digital making amongst children, young people, and parents. Youngsters see the power technology could give them to shape their world, their parents largely think such activities are worthwhile and might lead to work in the future. However, there still aren’t enough opportunities for them to develop and deepen these skills, especially face-to-face and with their peers.
Over the last few years, Nesta have been working with organisations supporting digital making, and we have seen some amazing work. Code Club have spread to primary schools across the country building children’s coding and making skills, Apps for Good have catapulted young people’s ideas for transforming their communities into the app store. Technology Will Save Us have got children physically building their own video games consoles, and Black Country Atelier have been engaging young people to craft fashions with cutting edge 3D printing tools.
Having seen such good work, and with the BBC set to launch digital creativity into the mainstream with their ‘Make it Digital’ initiative, we decided to take stock and try to get a clear picture of how much digital making is happening across the UK.
We identified 130,800 opportunities to experience digital making face-to-face provided across the UK. This is a long way from providing for the interest shown by 82 per cent of our survey, which represents a possible 8.2 million school age children and young people in the UK interested in digital making. What is happening is exciting, but we need a lot more of it, and it needs to spread. The report shows that some areas of the country as much better catered for than others, although more opportunities everywhere are needed.
As well as what is being provided, we explored the attitudes that people have towards digital making, and the things that young people are making by themselves and would like to make given the opportunity. We think there needs to be greater access to a variety of making opportunities catering for a wider variety of young people and their different interests, ages and genders.
What is happening at the moment can often be focused on an interest in technology for its own sake. The power of digital making is that it could become a means of expression for a vast range of hobbies and interests. It will shift from being a hobby in itself to the method of expression and creation and move beyond a niche interest for the budding technologists it has started with.
There is lots more in the report itself. As well as providing our recommendations of what we think should happen next, we hope it will be a useful resource for those already working in this area to dig into the detail of the information and inform their work.
Taking digital making to the next stage as a country is going to take support. We need to harness the interest of adult volunteers to get young people learning face-to-face. We need more investment from government and the corporate sector, both in informal skills development and in supporting teachers and schools to deliver the new computing curriculum. We all need to start seeing making with technology as a part of interests and hobbies that are already mainstream passions for young people.
Our research shows there is much to do. However, there are great models out there in the forms of the organisations, volunteers, teachers and enterprising young people themselves. We need to harness these, scale their effect and build on their examples if we are to make the UK a nation of digital makers.